Speech by The Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Cllr. Mark Cooney, at the Launch of Phases II & III of the “Active Travel Mullingar” Project, At Pipers Boreen, Mullingar on Wednesday 20th June 2012

As Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council and on behalf of the Management and Staff of Westmeath County Council and our strategic partner agencies in this project, Waterways Ireland and Westmeath Sports Partnership – I am delighted to be here today to officially open the upgraded Canal Towpath sections under Phases II and III of the “Active Travel – Mullingar” Project.

 

Phase II:

The section of towpath from Harbour Bridge to Castlepollard Road (known as the Supply Line)

Phase III:

This longer section from Pipers Boreen to Boardstown Bridge over the N 52.

 

The policy position of Westmeath County Council is to proactively seek to deliver a long-term strategy for sustainable movement in Mullingar, based on a Green Route Strategy and Smarter Travel Policy, with the aim of reducing pressure on the environment and to offer alternatives to travelling by car, promoting safe travel, improving health and increasing tourism.

In delivering on this policy – in Spring 2009, Mullingar became a nationally recognised Cycling Hub Town when Westmeath County Council in conjunction with Failte Ireland launched 117km of cycle routes on 3 defined routes around Mullingar, 6 km of which linked Mullingar to Ballinea along the Royal Canal, thanks to permission received from Waterways Ireland.

 

Also, in October of  2009, the “Mullingar Cycle Network” project resulted from the successful bid by Westmeath County Council to secure grant funding from the Gateways and Hubs European Regional Development Fund, to create approximately 20km of high quality cycle lanes around the town of Mullingar, on eight key routes.

 

Then in January of 2010, the Council, in association with Westmeath Sports Partnership and Waterways Ireland, were successful in securing grant funding from the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport, to deliver an additional cycling and walking project in Mullingar, involving the upgrading of specific lengths of the Royal Canal towpaths over a three phase, three year period, that would also include the installation of bike stands and bike shelters around Mullingar and the introduction of an information and education campaign in schools and in communities around Mullingar.

 

Out of all this activity has grown the “Active Travel Mullingar” brand that is very much in evidence around Mullingar, from the “Active Travel Mullingar” Bike Shelters, the “Active Travel Mullingar” Van, the ActiveTravelMullingar.ie website and the fantastic new and upgraded cycling and walking infrastructure that is now in place around the town and particularly utilising the precious resource of the Royal Canal Towpaths.

 

A very important aspect of the Mullingar Active Travel Project is the information and awareness campaign that is being spearheaded via the Westmeath Sports Partnership in delivering the “Bike Start” Programme in our Primary and Secondary Schools and also in the Community setting.

 

This important training programme is getting children and indeed adults properly trained up to be proficient cyclists and getting them out and about on the new and upgraded cycling infrastructure, with particular use of the safe and pleasant surroundings of the Royal Canal resource in Westmeath, with the ultimate aim of giving children and adults the competencies to cycle on our roads safely and with confidence.

 

Our ceremony here today is appropriately taking place as part of the celebrations for National Bike Week 2012 and Mullingar is fast becoming a model of best practice for the work that is ongoing to provide quality cycling infrastructure backed by the all important information and awareness raising and training to enable more and more people to get active and particularly out cycling, thereby providing the real prospect of long-term benefits to personal health and indeed the health of the local environment.

 

Indeed, the celebration of bike week extends to the competitive arena with the National Criterium Cycling Championship taking place in the town on Friday 29th June and the equally competitive but more local Inter-Firms Cycle races taking place as part of the Desitnatio n Sport Mullingar Festival of Sport on Sunday next 24th June in Mullingar town centre. All in all  – Cycling in Mullingar has never been so good – and long may that continue.

 

I want to thank everyone involved in the “Active Travel Mullingar Project:

  • from the County Manager and Elected reps who first approved of the project proposal in 2010;
  • to the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport for the all important grant funding to date;
  • to the Councils project management role and  co-funding arrangement;
  • to Waterways Ireland for allowing the Canal Towpaths to be used for walking and Cycling activity and
  • to all the staff in Westmeath Sports Partnership without whom, the all important educational strand of the project could not have succeeded as it has done.
  • to our Schools in Mullingar and indeed our local communities in embracing and getting  involved in the ”Active Travel Mullingar” project –

 

It is really encouraging and rewarding to see the huge increase in cycling and walking traffic now being witnessed on a daily basis around Mullingar and particularly on the Canal Towpaths, which is truly a testament to the success of the “Active Travel Mullingar” project.

 

Finally, our School children are the future of the “Active Travel-Mullingar” project and the catalyst, which by their lead will ensure the buy-in and involvement of all our stakeholders and will foster the continued success of the “Active Travel Mullingar” project. Congratulations to one and all and I now officially open the most recent upgraded sections of Royal Canal Towpath for public use.

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  • Increase tourism in the greater Mullingar area.

 

 

The Active Travel Mullingar Project is delivering on several objectives and policies within the Westmeath County Development Plan 2008 – 2014 which supports the development of pedestrian and cyclist routes.

 

The Project is providing lasting impact via infrastructural works in developing the cycle paths along upgraded Canal Towpaths and the installation of branded cycle shelters in participating schools and around Mullingar town also.

 

The information, awareness and education campaigns are an integral part of the implementation process for the “Active Travel Mullingar” project and already 12 Primary and Secondary Schools in the Mullingar area (5th & 6th Classes & transition years respectively) have signed up to participate in the project. To date, over 700 children have been trained how to cycle and cycle safe, including general knowledge aspects of safety equipment and bike maintenance.

 

On the walking  element of the Active Travel Mullingar Project – a new Walking Group has been established in Mullingar and this programme will be extended into the community setting to encourage more and more people to get involved in walking and reaping the benefits of being involved in healthy and activity-based programmes

 

The Active Travel Mullingar Project under  the Smarter Travel Project funding stream, has so far delivered:

  • Phase I, II & III – incorporating two sections  (totaling 4.122kilometres) of Canal Towpath upgraded to promote cycling and walking in a safe environment
  • 6 Trained Bike Start Tutors
  • 12 schools signed up to participate  in the project
  • Over 1,000 school children trained to date.
  • Ongoing educational “Bike Start” programme in schools via 5th, 6th and transition year student population.
  • Upgraded Canal towpaths being used as part of the training programme.
  • Upgraded Canal towpaths now being extensively used by pedestrians and cyclists.
  • New Walking Group established in Mullingar.
  • Installation of branded Cycle Shelters in participating schools and at strategic locations around Mullingar.
  • “Active Travel Mullingar”  branded van for dedicated use on the education aspects of the project.
  • New & exciting dedicated  Active  Travel Mullingar Website www.activetravelmullingar.ie to be launched shortly.
  • “Active Travel Mullingar” Project a central focus for National Bike Week Celebrations in Mullingar
  • Increasing the possibility of National/international cycling events as a result of the project focus on cycling and infrastructure being provided.  (National  Criterium Cycle Race held in Mullingar in 2011 and  earmarked for 2012)

 

The upgraded cycling and walking infrastructure provided thus far in Mullingar is the platform for the continued success of the Active Travel Mullingar Project, which, supported by ongoing information, awareness and educational campaigns, will promote knowledge and practical understanding of the principles of safe cycling and walking, including road safety, while encouraging student confidence in their cycling ability, through continued use of the infrastructure in place,  thus resulting in more children and adults in Mullingar cycling and walking, with the “Bike Start” educational element of the “Active Travel Mullingar” Project continuing within participating schools.

 

The new and dedicated “Active Travel Mullingar” Website will underpin the continuity of the project and provide information on active travel planning to any facility within the “Active Travel Mullingar” project area, will promote the health benefits of walking and cycling, show bike maintenance tips, CO2 calculator etc.

 

The new and innovative “Active Travel Mullingar” brand brings home the message of there being realistic and viable alternatives to travelling by car in Mullingar and provides the possibility of replication of the Active Travel Project in other areas in the county.

 

The “Active Travel Mullingar” Project has received a National Commendation at the recent Chambers Ireland “Excellence In Local Government Awards 2011, which is a very welcome and well earned acknowledgement of the value of the project and its ability to provide lasting benefits into the future for our environment, for our health and well being and our society in general.

 

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